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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
September 29, 2023

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Police deter Myanmar protesters

YANGON, Myanmar – Thousands of soldiers and police were deployed in Myanmar’s largest cities yesterday, keeping even the most die-hard protesters off the streets, and more arrests were reported, further demoralizing dissidents desperate for democracy.

The top U.N. envoy on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, was trying to persuade Myanmar’s military rulers to end a deadly crackdown on demonstrators that has sparked international outcry.

But many protesters said they were seeing a repeat of the global reaction to a 1988 pro-democracy uprising, when the world stood by as protesters were gunned down in the streets.

“I don’t think it will make much of a difference,” said one hotel worker, who like other residents asked not to be named, fearing retaliation. “We have to find a solution ourselves.”

A senior Japanese official headed for Myanmar yesterday to press the military government to move toward democracy and to protest the killing of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai during the crackdown on protesters. Deputy Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka was to arrive in Yangon by yesterday evening, according to a ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Soldiers and police have been posted on almost all corners in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Shopping malls, grocery stores and public parks were closed and few people dared to venture out of their homes.

A young woman who took part in a massive demonstration in Yangon Thursday said she didn’t think “we have any more hope to win.” She was separated from her boyfriend when police broke up the protest by firing into crowds and has not seen him since.

“The monks are the ones who give us courage,” she said. Most of the clerics, whose participation helped the protests grow dramatically, are now besieged in their monasteries behind locked gates and barbed wire.

The number of troops in Yangon, the largest city, swelled to around 20,000 after reinforcements arrived overnight yesterday, ensuring that almost all demonstrators would remain off the streets, an Asian diplomat said.

“The security forces are demonstrating their strength,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing protocol. “I think the chance of protesters coming to the road and mobilizing enough people to topple the junta is zero.”

People suspected of leading or organizing rallies continue to be arrested, he said, estimating that the total number could be as high as 1,000. With the main prison now overcrowded, people are now being detained in university buildings and educational institutes, he said.

Gambari was taken on arrival Saturday to Naypyitaw, the remote, bunker-like capital where the country’s military leaders are based. The White House urged the junta to allow him to have access to Aung San Suu Kyi – the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is under house arrest – and ordinary Myanmar residents.

The demonstrations began last month as people angry over massive fuel price hikes took to the streets – then mushroomed into the tens of thousands after the monks began marching.

The junta, which has a long history of snuffing out dissent, started cracking down Wednesday, when the first of at least 10 deaths was reported, and then let loose on Thursday, shooting into a crowd of protesters and clubbing them with batons.

The crackdown triggered an unprecedented verbal flaying of Myanmar’s generals from almost every corner of the world – even some criticism from No. 1 ally China.

But little else that might stay the junta’s heavy hand is seen in the foreseeable future.

The United States, which exercises meager leverage, froze any assets that 14 Myanmar leaders may have in U.S. financial institutions and prohibited American citizens from doing business with them. The leaders, including Than Shwe, are believed to have few if any such connections.

The United Nations has compiled a lengthy record of failure in trying to broker reconciliation between the junta and Suu Kyi. Gambari’s efforts have been stymied, while his predecessor, Razali Ismail, was snubbed or sometimes barred from entry by the State Peace and Development Council, as the ruling junta is formally known.

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